Love in the time of recession: Dollar-less dates

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Dating, whether you are living the single life or keeping the romance alive in a committed relationship, can cost big bucks.

A typical date of dinner and a movie, for example, can cost $50 or more. If you are strapped for cash in the recession, is finding love really worth the price? Smitten experts at Money Management International believe love, the kind with real worth, is free and that dollar-less dates can make it red hot.

Dating in the early stages of a relationship often involves extravagant, pricey plans because daters want to make a good impression. The rule of reciprocity, detailed in psychologist Robert B. Cialdini's book , says that people, by nature, want to return the favor if they receive a gift. In dating terms, if one partner dishes out for an expensive date, the other partner is likely to reciprocate with love or a promise of another date.

It's easy to be misled by society into thinking that the "gift" of a date has to come with a price tag in order to be valued. The truth is that a dollar-less date, a date that costs little more than some creativity and brain power, can be considered unique and valuable by your date.

Want to spark a red hot romance without putting your finances in the red? Use some creativity to think up free date ideas that reflect you or your date's personality. Here are a few dollar-less dates to get you started.

Volunteer. Spend your time together making a difference. Offering to walk dogs at a local animal shelter will give you time to bond, plus, you'll feel good about helping out.

Capture the moment. Use your imaginations to create your own digital camera shoot. Pick a theme for your snaps like romantic downtown spots or funny business signs.

Take a risk. Spend the day doing things you have never done before. The fun part of this challenge will be finding things that neither of you have done before that are free.

Be young at heart. Remember when playing outside was the most fun you could have? Recreate those days by going to a local park with a picnic lunch and a bocce ball set.

Go back in time. Relocate your TV and DVD player (with the help of an extension cord) to the back yard. Set blankets on the grass and watch a flick under the stars, drive-in style.

The focus early in the dating relationship should be getting to know each other, a hard thing to do in a quiet movie theater or if you are feeling self conscious in an upscale restaurant. Dollar-fewer dates are great because they can showcase your passions to your date. Give your date the gift of your authentic self and, hopefully, they will reciprocate.